For a long time, I have sincerely felt I made the wrong decision when I left the military in 1998. I miss the passion, friendship, adventure and also how there was not an option to miss on solving the task at hand and never let things slip, not to forget the trust amongst colleagues and the constant flow of constructive feedback that was both given and taken. I know it is many years ago and a lot of things have happened since, but I really miss that job.
Why did I leave then?
There is no simple answer. When I left 1998, I had worn the uniform almost every day for 6 years (transferred from full-time officer to officer in the reserve, until 2007 when I resigned fully). At that time I felt I had to make a personal decision on how I wanted my future to look. In retrospect, I made the wrong one. Why did that happen? Well, I was young and restless…and to be honest a bit too restless to make the most sensible decision.
Simply put, I should have stuck in there and had the patience to really decide on what I wanted. I didn’t! My bad!
What I miss?
This one is easy. I miss the comradeship, the passion, the adventure and the mental and physical challenge. I also sincerely felt I was really good at what I did. I was good at running our missions (tasks our unit worked with was terrorism, sabotage, subversion (similar to propaganda, spreading rumors, fake news etc), intelligence and crimes).
I was not a perfect military officer in any way, I had many flaws, which I guess both old colleagues and soldier can confirm. I had no ambition of becoming a general or high ranking officer, I wanted to be in the field, I wanted to be with the troops, I wanted to be in the frontline solving the tasks with the units, not behind a desk. I was probably considered by many as a soldier first and an officer second. It was certainly a lifestyle and even though I did not have much time off-duty (often by choice) I ended up at the regiment most days I was off duty as well. Simply because I wanted to….and my friends were already there.
A civilian workplace is a strange place for a former officer
In the military, I felt that I shared my passion and expertise with every single officer I worked with in those units. This is one of the things that is so flawed in the civilian workplace. Colleagues get away with being lazy and not doing their job. How the hell can that happen? ..or be allowed, for that matter. It simply seems people go to work to get a salary, not due to passion (at least a little) or that they like what they do.
Just look around yourself today, I am 100% sure you have a few colleagues that you sincerely think are lazy fucks and / or simply bad at what they do. The scary thing is that it is allowed.
Yes, we had different levels of ambition between my colleagues in the military as well, but I can honestly say that none of them let things slip, lacked ethics or lacked passion. A work like that is almost impossible to do without passion and ethics.
This created a huge respect amongst colleagues which I have not seen since. I miss that dearly.
I have never felt the same trust and comfort in my colleagues as I did during those years.
Don’t misunderstand this, I have had great colleagues and partners over the years, but it is hard to replicate that trust you build amongst colleagues in the military.
I also miss constructive feedback. This was a big challenge for me as a manager when I left the military, giving constructive feedback to colleagues and employees, it created a few strange situations, to say the least. Even given it is almost 20 years ago since I left, I still see this as something that the private sector can learn from the military. If no feedback (or bad feedback), it just creates backstabbing, confusion, rumors and bad work environment. I have seen it quite a few times.
What I did wrong after I left
I did not keep in contact with my former colleagues, even though many of them really tried to keep in contact with me. That I regret deeply. At that time I decided I had finished that era and needed to move on. Many of my friends that also left, returned to the military after short stints in the private sector and many, that now have left, today work in sectors that are very close to the military (private security companies, chief security officers at large corporations etc). Many have naturally left for other sectors as well.
I am very confident that a military officer is a special individual, by that I mean, he / she is a tricky beast, not a simple individual. If you chose that line of work, you are different, simple as that. This is especially feasible in units like the one I belonged to and similar units.
This “different” thing also makes you an outsider at most workplaces, it often feels like you do not fit in. You get frustrated when co-workers don’t deliver on time or simply ignore tasks assigned from meeting etc. You can’t ever get your head around why we do things without a goal and why it is OK to simply let things slip between the fingers.
Most of the time my experience from the military have been highly appreciated by the companies I have worked with and the co-workers I have had, and I am grateful for all the knowledge and experience I gained. I think the experience a military officer has is an extremely valuable asset for any company, not always comfortable for the company, but very valuable.
What I brought with me from that time
I have still worked best in the frontline with the units (in this case co-workers or co-founders), utilizing my personal skills, but now in business development, sales, management etc. Similar in many ways, but also very different. I have enjoyed building my own companies / startups, and always worked towards large corporations as clients. I have always been the one building the business and closing the contracts.
Still in the field with the soldiers solving difficult tasks.
Realistically then, what should I have done differently?
The main thing I should have done was to keep in contact with my colleagues from that time. I still have contact with a few, but most are in the wind. It would mainly have kept the friendship going, but it would most certainly also have opened up for opportunities to work with these former colleagues. This in private companies as co-workers, starting companies together or simply work together in whatever business. Instead, I choose to venture off in tech and entrepreneurship without much contact with my previous life. I am 100% sure I excluded opportunities that would have given me the stimulation similar to what we had in the military if I would have stayed in closer contact with my former colleagues. Again, my bad!
I think I just needed to get this out of the system after all these years. And it is never to late to re-connect!
Top image: The medal you get when leaving Försvarsmakten. The one in the image is mine.